Archive for July, 2010

Jack on joy – #2

A classic and brilliant observation on joy from C.S. Lewis:

We are half-hearted creatures, fooling around with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered to us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in the slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at sea.  We are far too easily pleased.” (The Weight of Glory)

We are so easily satiated with cheap fillers that we can hardly imagine that a far greater joy is available to us.  All these substitutes point to the truer joy we are invited to enjoy in God.

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From the belly

Does anyone really pay much attention to their breathing?  Seems so utterly basic, but apparently I need graduate level education.  At recent retreat the presenter (Jason Hildebrand, by the way, a fine actor who has a unique gift of discernment – you can learn more about Jason here) took time to give a bunch of us pastors breathing lessons.   Jason took time to explain how frequently we stressed out Westerners breathe so shallowly, only up in the chest instead of from deep in the belly.  However, our bodies are designed to breathe with our diaphragms pumping air in and out, with our rib cage acting as a bellows.

He talked about the connection between breathing well and connecting with our whole selves.  When God breathed the breath of life into Adam, that wasn’t just nice biblical metaphor but also physical reality.  So often we live out of our heads, disconnected from the rest of ourselves; learning to breathe deeply, from the belly, helps connect us with a deep sense of self and with God.  Somehow breathing as we were designed to links us to things going on in the deeper reaches of ourselves, which then our minds can process, and we are living as the whole, body-mind-spirit people God created us as.

OK, quite a little tangent there so let’s get to the happy point.  I couldn’t help but think if some part of any struggle to live in joy alway might be tied into the most basic reality of how we breathe.  Here’s a simply little experiment – try to hold your breath and feel deep joy.  Hard to do because joy is not simply a thought but also a bodily expression (back to an earlier post on the biblical words on joy, which are more about joy’s bodily expression – you can see it here)

Think of the physiology of joy – you can’t laugh without it coming from your belly.  Try it – put your hand on your belly, your lower diaphragm (come on, no one is looking).  Start with a snicker – did you feel that slight push of your abdomen to force the air out of your nose.  Now try a chuckle – you can’t do it without your belly doing a little rhumba.  Now, get someone to tell you a joke and go for a full-out laugh, keeping your hand on your lower abdomen and watch for lots of motion.

You’ve got to breathe deeply, from the belly, to experience joy.  It’s a basic bodily reality – and maybe breathing lessons might be the most helpful thing to increase your joy!

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The sound of sunshine

This past weekend I got in touch with my inner hippie and turned folkie, hanging out at the Calgary Folk Music Festival.  Wow, does great live music bring me a lot of joy!  What a fabulous time.  First of all, the venue has to be one of the sweetest.  Held at Prince’s Island Park in downtown Calgary, nestled among tall poplar  trees, sitting on a grassy field, it’s simply a superb spot for an urban folk festival. 

And the music was … well what adjectives can I pile up: superb, infectiously joyful, brilliant, beautiful, restorative, and the list could go one.  You can listen to some of the bands here  (click on the listen tab under the Avett Brothers picture) – the Avett brother’s  “Incomplete and insecure,”  a great prayer from Romantica (Don’t let it fall), Michael Franti (check out the You Tube link to his new single “The Sound of Sunshine” and I defy you to not dance or smile after listening to it.  It’s here) and El Puchero del Hortelano, just to be transported to another world.

The top highlights for me were the Avett Brothers and Michael Franti and Spearhead, some of the best concerts I’ve ever been to.  Both were joyful musical romps, getting the whole crowd on their feet, singing along and dancing to their music.

What is it about music – and more so, live music – that calls joy out from us?  It can be the rhythmic sounds of Franti or a sublime piano concerto, but music has this profound capacity to slip past all our reasoned defenses for not living in joy and get into our souls, prompting our bodies to catch another rhythm, losing ourselves to a moment of joy. 

There are so few places these days where you actually get to sing out loud other than your car – I’m convinced that’s one of the lasting gifts of weekly worship services, making for a regular time and providing a public place where you can still sing out loud, and together with others.  There is something about singing out loud that is a catalyst for joy – an act of joy that helps your heart pick up a deeper, truer melody about life – the sound of sunshine.

So I’m going to not just listen to music today, I’m going sing and dance and make some noise to help my soul wake up.  Join me – bust a move and sing out loud sometime today – even if you’re awfully out of tune or you can’t dance to save your life.  Better yet, join me at church next Sunday and let’s do it together.

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A cheerful revolt

Here’s a great quote from writer of the spiritual life, Richard Foster:

“Joy, not grit, is the hallmark of holy obedience. We need to be light-hearted in what we do to avoid taking ourselves too seriously. It is a cheerful revolt against self and pride.”

Not much time to write – I’m off to the Calgary Folk Music Festival tonight!

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The experience of flow = joy

I just saw an interesting video on why your workplace is probably the worst place to actually get any work done – because it’s structured for interruptions.  Phone calls, emails, co-workers stopping by and meetings continually interrupt the day so you end up not getting much accomplished, but more so, never enter a place of sustained attention in any one thing.  That’s why I often put my phone on “do not disturb” or retreat to a back room at church to write a sermon – I need uninterrupted space and time to get good work done.  You can check the video out here:

On the flip side, have you ever been working where you are so involved that you lose track of time?  You get into a groove, you find “the zone” and you are productive and creative; work just flows out of you naturally (and its not just work – I watch Owen play Lego this way, completely intense and involved.  You can be in the same room calling out his name but he’s not hearing you because he’s in another world – and the Lego creations he comes up with are fabulous).

Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (I dare you to try and pronounce that name) studied this and developed the concept of “flow.”  It’s that state of mind and being where all of you is fully involved in some activity.  And the intensity and full absorption is not draining but actually energizing.  Csikszentmihalyi says that people are happiest when they find flow in their lives.  A hallmark of flow is spontaneous joy, some even call it a feeling of rapture.

Flow is about more than work, but imagine that – your job as a place of joy, even rapture!  How about it, though – wouldn’t that be a transforming thing, to find great joy in your job, to be glad to head off to work each day.  Because if you’re going to live joy all the time, well, you really can’t leave your work out of the picture.  Some of the more miserable people I know have never learned to enjoy work.

Finding flow and living in joy are pretty close cousins, if not immediate family.  And it seems that an important part of both is simply getting outside of myself, beyond my ego and self-focus, being caught up in something bigger than me.  It seems like flow, and experiencing joy, is a form of being present, being fully aware of what is in front of my nose and having the brains to see the gift of it.

And maybe a simple practice for helping me to live in joy is reducing the interruptions.  Now to find some way to tell that to my kids.

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Kitschy delights

Do you have a favourite kitschy delight, a guilty pleasure that you don’t own up to very quickly?

Saturday I went with Owen and Lily to one of mine, the Calgary Stampede.  The “greatest outdoor show on earth” has genuine cowboy roots and the rodeo is as gritty as you get.  But the rest of the exhibition is cheesy central – and I still love it.

The people-watching is probably my favourite part – I love gawking at the huge diversity of people.  Even at a “cowboy” event, you see a nice stretch of humanity.  You’ve got your cowboys and cowboy-wannabes, cowgirls and the hardly-wearing-anything-but-my-hat sirens.  There was a tatted-up Goth chick with a nice touch of plaid, the Sudanese family decked out in new white Stetsons (the black and white contrast was stunning), all the cute-as-a-button toddler cowpokes and so many more.

Of course there’s the food, where you can easily scarf down your daily caloric intake within an hour (I’m sure some Stampede by-law exists stipulating nothing healthy or fresh can be served up).  Seriously, eating food at the Stampede is like a brief version of Morgan Spurlock’s movie “Super size me.”  The whole midway is one big artery clogging deep fryer where your options are basically two: highly refined sugars or highly processed meats, all with the option of being deep fried.  Would you like fries with that? 

Where else do you get something called wiggle chips or a deep fried Oreo cookie (outstanding, by the way).  Awaiting you is every choice of all the awful food you just love – corn dogs, cotton candy (this is simply mainlining sugar), bags of mini-donuts, meat on a stick (so primal), deep-fried jelly beans (next year I’m going for these), snow-cones, candy apples (bordering on healthy here), even fried cheese.  And I pretty much let the kids have whatever they wanted.

Owen and Lily loved all of the farm animals up close and even put up with all their smells.  We took in a few rides and Owen took back a few cheap prizes along with a slightly more valuable sense of pride at having won the prizes.  And along with the smells, the sounds are so fun.

If you get a chance to go to an exhibition or fair like this, find a noisy place, close your eyes and listen for a while.  You hear the clunk and grind of rides, animal sounds (nothing better than the clip-clop of horses hooves on pavement), the game barkers calling out, the strains of a fiddle playing somewhere, cries of a tired baby, the hollering of some kid hopped up on who knows how much sugar (uh, that would be my son), the scuffle and shuffle of boots and shoes, and screams of delight up in some ride.

It’s all a quite lovely, kitschy cacophony of gladness.  And I’ll probably go again next year.

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Holy hail stones

This past Monday afternoon the strangest storm was brewing over Calgary.  Black clouds were fronting the storm with these aqua-green coloured chasers tucking in behind.  We dutifully took in the cushions from our deck furniture and got ready for the downpour.  I was intrigued and stood on the deck just observing the storm pass over.  The darkest clouds, which I expected had all the rain, had pretty much passed by when I heard something that caught my attention.  It first sounded like the din of traffic in the distance; getting louder, it became more like a train in the distance and then a wall of sound, like the sound of an approaching waterfall.  Then you could pick out the distinct ping of hail hitting roofs, trees, windshields and car-tops. 

And then the missiles started.  That is what it felt like as bloated golf-ball sized hail (some nearing the size of eggs) came whistling through the trees and pelted us.  The sound of it was uncanny – you could almost hear the whistle and hum as the hail stones screamed downward and then the noise of impact – the strafing of foliage, the thud in grass or dirt, the smack on concrete, the crash on rooftops, the ping and thump on cars and the whack on siding and gutters. 

It was all a little chaotic but once we realized that there was nothing to do but watch, the kids and I took a sleeping bag (which I had grabbed hoping to put on the car but soon realized I just might be taking my life in my hands without a helmet on), cuddled up on the front porch bench and allowed the storm to blow over us.

I was filled with a unique feeling of gladness and goodness.  Here we were, sitting in the middle of a pretty violent summer storm, menacing hailstones whistling down and crashing about us, rain and wind slanting in at angles, but completely protected.   A mixture of release (yes, the van was getting dinged up and roof shingles might be getting scraped bare, but what could I do about it now?), security and yet danger too.  We were snug and warm yet close enough to the raging storm to get damp.

Interesting how these competing experiences – danger and security – combine together to add up to joy and delight.  Why joy?  I think because I was close enough to the storm to feel the threat of its dangerous power and yet freed up to actually enjoy the furious life of the storm because I was safe and protected.

There’s always part of us that wants to be on the edge, feeling alive and experiencing all of life not just its safely managed parts; and then there’s another deep instinct to protect and guard our lives.  And when you get both at the same time, you’ve got joy!  I think it’s like the really crazy rides at amusement parks – you’re spinning and rolling, experiencing who knows what sort of G-forces, but strapped in and secure.  And you end up laughing, and screaming out, with delight.

Reminds me of a quote from G.K. Chesterton that greets me every day on my office door: “Every person wants two things in life: adventure and security.  Only in Christianity do you get both.” 

I think that just might be the secret to living in joy.

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